Change and Continuity in America’s Asia Pivot: US Engagement with Multilateralism in the Asia Pacific

  • See Seng Tan
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


When Barack Obama became the president of the United States, he issued a number of key declarations, oft reiterated since, that sought to define his foreign policy and presumably set it apart from those of his predecessors. For example, in an address to a Tokyo audience in November 2009, President Obama referred to himself as “America’s first Pacific President,” promising his listeners that the United States would “strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.”1 Second, he noted in that same speech that the United States, under his leadership, would actively support and participate in multilateral diplomacy:

In addition to our bilateral relations, we also believe that the growth of multilateral organizations can advance the security and prosperity of this region. I know that the United States has been disengaged from many of these organizations in recent years. So let me be clear: Those days have passed. As a [sic] Asia Pacific nation, the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region, and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve.2


Foreign Policy International Security Bush Administration Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Benign Neglect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Select Bibliography

  1. “Apec 2013: U.S. Shutdown Fears Perturb Apec Summit,” The Straits Times, October 6, 2013. Available at (accessed March 28, 2014).
  2. Acharya, Amitav, “The Emerging Regional Architecture of World Politics,” World Politics, vol. 59, no. 4, July 2007, 629–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Acharya, Amitav and Arabinda Acharya, “The Myth of the Second Front: Localizing the ‘War on Terror’ in Southeast Asia,” The Washington Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4, Autumn 2007, 75–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Acharya, Amitav and See Seng Tan, “Betwixt Balance and Community: America, ASEAN, and the Security of Southeast Asia,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, vol. 6, no. 1, 2006, 37–59, see p. 47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. —, “Introduction,” in See Seng Tan and Amitav Acharya (eds), Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation: National Interests and Regional Order, Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2004, pp. xxvi–xxix.Google Scholar
  6. Ba, Alice, “Systemic Neglect? A Reconsideration of U.S.-Southeast Asia Policy,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 31, no. 3, December 2009, 369–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boot, Max, “Obama’s Disappearing Pacific Pivot,” Commentary, January 29, 2014. Available at (accessed April 9, 2014).
  8. Bosco, David, “What Divides Neocons and Liberal Interventionists,” Foreign Policy, April 9, 2012. Available at (accessed April 9, 2014).
  9. Buzan, Barry and Ole Wæver, Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cammack, Paul, “Smart Power and U.S. Leadership: A Critique of Joseph Nye,” 49th Parallel, vol. 22, Autumn 2008, 4–20.Google Scholar
  11. Campbell, Kurt and Brian Andrews, “Explaining the U.S. ‘Pivot’ to Asia,” Americas 2013/01, London: Chatham House/Royal Institute of International Affairs, August 2013, p. 2.Google Scholar
  12. Capie, David and Amitav Acharya, “The United States and the East Asia Summit: A New Beginning?” PacNet, no. 64, November 14, 2011.Google Scholar
  13. Cha, Victor D. “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security, vol. 34, no. 3, Winter 2009/2010, 158–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. “China’s Disappointment: The Fight against Terrorism Will Dominate the APEC Meeting,” The Economist, October 18, 2001. Available at (accessed June 24, 2013).
  15. Clinton, Hillary “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, October 11, 2011. Available at (accessed March 17, 2014).
  16. Deibel, Terry L., “Reagan’s Mixed Legacy,” Foreign Policy, no. 75, Summer 1989.Google Scholar
  17. Dobriansky Paula J. (US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs), “Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Remarks to Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, December 5, 2003. Available at (accessed March 29, 2014).Google Scholar
  18. Dormandy, Xenia with Rory Kinane, Asia-Pacific Security: A Changing Role for the United States, Chatham House Report, London: Chatham House/Royal Institute of International Affairs, April 2014.Google Scholar
  19. Emmerson, Don, “ASEAN Stumbles in Phnom Penh,” PacNet, no. 45, July 19, 2012.Google Scholar
  20. Ewing, Philip, “Obama’s Asia Pivot: A Work in Progress,” Politico, April 20, 2014. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  21. Fifield, Russell H. National and Regional Interests in ASEAN: Competition and Cooperation in International Politics, Occasional Paper no. 57, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1979, p. 70.Google Scholar
  22. Fravel, Taylor and Richard J. Samuels, “The United States as an Asian Power: Realism or Conceit?,” Audit of the Conventional Wisdom, No. 05–2, Cambridge, (MA): MIT Center for International Studies, April 2005, p. 2.Google Scholar
  23. Friedberg, Aaron L., A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, New York: W. W. Norton, 2012.Google Scholar
  24. Fukuyama, Francis, “After Neoconservatism,” The New York Times, February 19, 2006. Available at (accessed April 9, 2014).
  25. Gershman, John “Is Southeast Asia the Second Front?,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 81, no. 4, July–August 2003, 60–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gill, Bates, Michael Green, Kiyoto Tsuji, and William Watts, Strategic Views on Asian Regionalism: Survey Results and Analysis, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 2009.Google Scholar
  27. Good, Chris, “The Obama Doctrine: Multilateralism With Teeth,” The Atlantic, December 10, 2009. Available at (accessed March 17, 2014).
  28. Gowan, Richard and Bruce Jones, “Mr. Obama Goes to New York: The President and the Restoration of Multilateral Diplomacy,” Brookings Report, September 17, 2009. Available at (accessed March 27, 2014).
  29. Haacke, Jürgen, “Playing Catch-Up: The United States and Southeast Asia,” LSE IDEAS Special Report (SR) 003: Obama Nation?: U.S. Foreign Policy One Year On, January 2010, pp. 28–33, see p. 28.Google Scholar
  30. Harper, John Lamberton, The Cold War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 166.Google Scholar
  31. Harry Kazianis, “America’s AirSea Battle vs. China’s A2/AD: Who Wins?,” The Diplomat, July 19, 2013. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  32. Heisbourg, François “American Hegemony? Perceptions of the U.S. Abroad,” Survival, vol. 41, no. 4, Winter 1999–2000, 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ikenberry, G. John, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  34. —, “Power and Liberal Order: America’s Postwar World Order in Transition,” International Relations of the Asia Pacific, vol. 5, no. 2, 2005, 133–152, see 134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jackson, Karl, “Southeast Asia: Off the Radar Screen?,” SAISPHERE (School of Advanced International Studies [SAIS], Johns Hopkins University), 2004.Google Scholar
  36. Jones, Bruce, “The Coming Clash? Europe and US Multilateralism under Obama,” in Alvaro de Vasconcelos and Marcin Zaborowski (eds), The Obama Moment: European and American Perspectives, Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies, 2010, pp. 63–77.Google Scholar
  37. Jones, David Martin and Michael L. R. Smith, “Making Process, Not Progress: ASEAN and the Evolving East Asian Regional Order,” International Security, vol. 32, no. 1, Summer 2007, 148–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kagan, Robert, “Multilateralism, American Style,” The Washington Post, September 13, 2002. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  39. Kahler, Miles, “Multilateralism with Small and Large Numbers,” International Organization, vol. 46, no. 3, Summer 1992, 681–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kan, Shirley A., “U.S.-China Counterterrorism Cooperation: Issues for US Policy,” Congressional Research Service, July 15, 2010. Available at (accessed June 17, 2013).
  41. Kassim, Yang Razali, “East Asia Summit 2012: Asia’s Power Game Unfolds,” East Asia Forum, December 12, 2012. Available at (accessed April 29, 2014).
  42. Katzenstein, Peter J. A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  43. Keck, Zachary, “Shutdown Forces Obama to Cancel Malaysia Trip, APEC May Be Next,” The Diplomat, October 2, 2013. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  44. —, “U.S. Swears Asia Pivot Isn’t Dead,” The Diplomat, April 2, 2014. Available at (accessed April 23, 2014).
  45. Keller, William W. and Thomas G. Rawski (eds), China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  46. Khong, Yuen Foong, “Primacy or World Order? The United States and China’s Rise—A Review Essay,” International Security, vol. 38, no. 3, Winter 2013/2014, 153–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Krauss, Elliot S. and T. J. Pempel (eds), Beyond Bilateralism: U.S. Japan Relations in the New Asia Pacific, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  48. Kumar, Ramakrishna and See Seng Tan (eds), After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, Singapore: World Scientific, 2003.Google Scholar
  49. Kwa, Chong Guan and See Seng Tan, “The Keystone of World Order,” The Washington Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 3, 2001, 95–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kyle, William, “The U.S. Navy and the Pivot: Less Means Less,” The Diplomat, March 31, 2014. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  51. Langdon, Frank and Brian L. Job, “APEC beyond Economics: The Politics of APEC,” Working Paper 243, Notre Dame, IN: The Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, October 1997, p. 3.Google Scholar
  52. Lincoln, Edward J., “The Bush Second Term and East Asian Economic Regionalism,” JCER (Japan Center for Economic Research), undated. Available at (accessed March 28, 2014).
  53. —, “Taking APEC Seriously,” Brookings Policy Brief Series, no. 92, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, December 2001. Available at (accessed June 24, 2013).Google Scholar
  54. Malone, David M. and Yuen Foong Khong (eds), Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy: International Perspectives, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003.Google Scholar
  55. Mauzy, Diane K. and Brian L. Job, “US Policy in Southeast Asia: Limited Re-engagement after Years of Benign Neglect,” Asian Survey, vol. 47, no. 4, 2007, 622–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McDevitt, Michael, “U.S. Security Strategy in East Asia,” November 6, 2002. Available at (accessed April 22, 2014).Google Scholar
  57. McMahon, Robert J., The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia Since World War II, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 197–198.Google Scholar
  58. —, “The U.S., and South and Southeast Asia, 1975–2000,” in Robert D. Schulzinger, (ed.), A Companion to American Foreign Relations, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.Google Scholar
  59. Misalucha, Charmaine G., “Southeast Asia-U. S. Relations: Hegemony or Hierarchy?,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 33, no. 2, August 2011, 209–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Nesadurai, Helen, “APEC: A Tool for U.S. Regional Domination?,” The Pacific Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 2006, 31–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nye, Joseph S., Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, New York: Basic Books, 1990.Google Scholar
  62. —, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, no. 616, 2008, 94–109Google Scholar
  63. —, “Security and Smart Power,” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 51, no. 9, 2008, 1351–1356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. —, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York: Public Affairs, 2004.Google Scholar
  65. Obama, Barack, “Remarks by President Barack Obama at Suntory Hall,” The White House: Office of the Press Secretary, November 14, 2009. Available at (accessed April 8, 2014).
  66. “Overview of ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations,”, undated. Available at (accessed March 28, 2014).
  67. Patrick, Stewart, “America’s Retreat from Multilateral Engagement,” Current History, vol. 99, December 2000.Google Scholar
  68. —, “Prix Fixe and à la Carte: Avoiding False Multilateral Choices,” The Washington Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 4, October 2009, 77–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Patrick, Stewart and Shepard Forman (eds), Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy: Ambivalent Engagement, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002.Google Scholar
  70. Reynolds, Isabel and Maiko Takahashi, “U.S. Japan Remain Divided on TPP Deal Weeks before Obama Visit,” Bloomberg, April 10, 2014. Available at–04-10/u-s-japan-remain-divided-on-tpp-deal-weeks-before-obama-visit.html (accessed April 24, 2014).
  71. Schimmelfennig, Frank “Multilateralism in Post-Cold War NATO: Functional Form, Identity-Driven Cooperation,” Paper for AUEB International Conference on “Assessing Multilateralism in the Security Domain,” June 3–5, 2005, Delphi, Greece.Google Scholar
  72. Sirila, Aaron, “Clinton: “Renewed American Leadership in Asia,” Asia Matters for America (East-West Center), November 4, 2010. Available at (accessed June 27, 2013).
  73. Solomon, Richard, “U. S. Wants Fully Restored Relationship with New Zealand,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon’s address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, New Zealand, August 6, 1999. Available at (accessed April 9, 2014).Google Scholar
  74. Stewart, Patrick, “‘The Mission Determines the Coalition’: The United States and Multilateral Cooperation after 9/11,” in Bruce D. Jones, Shepard Forman, and Richard Gowan (eds), Cooperating for Peace and Security: Evolving Institutions and Arrangements in a Context of Changing U. S. Security Policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 20–44.Google Scholar
  75. Sutter, Robert G., The United States in Asia, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.Google Scholar
  76. Swaine, Michael D., “America’s Asia Pivot Threatens Regional Stability,” The National Interest, December 7, 2011. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  77. Symons, Emma-Kate, “ASEAN Anger at Snub by Rice,” The Australian, July 28, 2007. Available at–1111114037879 (accessed March 28, 2014).
  78. Tan, See Seng, “Competing Visions: EAS in the Regional Architecture Debate,” East Asia Forum, November 15, 2011. Available at (accessed June 27, 2013).
  79. —, Facilitating China-U.S. Relations in the Age of Rebalancing: ASEAN’s “Middle Power” Diplomacy, EAI MPDI Working Paper No. 1, Seoul: East Asia Institute, October 18, 2013.Google Scholar
  80. —, “‘Talking Their Walk’? The Evolution of Defence Regionalism in Southeast Asia,” Asian Security, vol. 8, no. 3, 2012, 232–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Taylor, Lenore, “Changing Fortunes Dictate Another Presidential Pivot,” The Sydney Morning Herald, November 17, 2011. Available at–1nk3t.html (accessed April 17, 2014).
  82. Tiezzi, Shannon, “Has Obama Abandoned the Pivot to Asia?,” The Diplomat, January 20, 2014. Available at (accessed April 8, 2014).
  83. Tsai, Frederick, “The False Binary Choice between Unilateralism and Multilateralism,” SAIS Review of International Affairs, vol. 28, no. 2, Summer–Fall 2008, 45–48.Google Scholar
  84. “U.S. To Resume Select Military Assistance to Indonesia,”, November 25, 2005. Available at (accessed April 24, 2014).
  85. Vance, Cyrus R. Hard Choices: Critical Years in America’s Foreign Policy, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.Google Scholar
  86. Wesley, Michael, “The Dog That Didn’t Bark: The Bush Administration and East Asian Regionalism,” in Mark Beeson (ed), Bush and Asia: America’s Evolving Relations with East Asia, London: Routledge, 2006.Google Scholar
  87. White, Hugh, The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, Collingwood, VIC: Black Inc., 2013.Google Scholar
  88. Zelikow, Philip, “American Engagement in Asia,” in Robert D. Blackwill and Paul Dibb (eds), America’s Asian Alliances, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000, pp. 19–30.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Hugo Meijer 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • See Seng Tan

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations